Copywriting Vs. Content Writing


I started in advertising when the internet didn’t exist. Everything was print, outdoor, radio, television, or video. So in the world of marketing, writers were all copywriters. If the firm handled highly technical or medically-related products they may have also had technical writers.

The technical writers wrote the heavy duty informational/educational stuff and instructional manuals. Facts. Lots of words.

The copywriters wrote in a way that exuded the spirit of a brand. Moved people to take action. Think Don Draper and Peggy Olson in Mad Men. Feelings. Few words.

There’s a new kind of writer now, and that’s the content writer. So there’s quite a bit of discussion and confusion about the distinction between the content writer and the copywriter.

From my point of view, the content writer is more akin to the technical writer, albeit they’re writing in a much broader array of media, to much broader audiences. But still, the goal of content writing is to educate and inform…and oftentimes entertain. The intent is to, over time, build trust, create interaction—possibly a relationship—with the reader, so as to move them to eventually connect with a company or acquire/recommend a product, or share the content in social media.

Content writing also has a goal of positively impacting search engine optimization (SEO). The writing needs to pay attention to key words. It is content that needs to market well on the internet.

Copywriting is meant for branding, grabbing attention, engaging, heightening an experience, creating curiosity. Making sure the reader gets why your brand matters, in such a way that they’re motivated to act. Now.

Basically, it comes down to telling vs selling. Optimally, the end result of both is to move people toward a product, company or service; but that’s the immediate goal of copywriting (selling) vs the long-term goal of content writing (telling).

As writer Bob Bly says “If you have a bullet in your text that says, ‘Eating apples reduces your risk of cancer,” that is content: you are giving the reader the information. If you write ‘Delicious fruit can reduce your risk of cancer.’ that is copy, designed to arouse curiosity and get the reader to order your book. Content tells, copy sells.”

A really talented writer can do both, but usually a writer is more skilled or talented at one vs the other. Most commonly (but of course not always) a copywriter can do content-writing, but content-writers have a tough time doing copywriting. It’s usually easier to write more words than get an idea down to a pithy handful of words.

In fact, content writing is often not even being done by a writer—it can be anyone who’s putting out a blog, white paper, instructional or educational article, news release, etc. Whereas copywriting is generally the person’s profession, one for which they’ve been schooled and trained. Obviously, the best content writer has good writing skills.

You really can’t have just one or the other. They both play a critical role in your marketing.